I first watched Pale Rider years ago when I was trying to plow through all the Clint Eastwood westerns (post Leone), and I remember that it didn't strike me enough to buy it at the time. I didn't remember much else about it, however, and a recent book purchase (Metallic Cartridge Conversions -- excellent book) revived my interest. After all, my first viewing actually took place before my current fervor, when that zeal was merely average interest. So, I thought a second viewing was in order, one with my current Beer Goggles, in order to re-evaluate the movie's merits.
Well, it's decided: it's not a great movie. It does have some great stuff in it, but the great is bogged down by the boring. The concept for the story is great: an unnamed man, who might be a divine force, comes to town to serve defend the weak, inspire the good, and destroy the evil. It's the same concept as High Plains Drifter, only Clint's character comes off as a bit more likable. His costume, name (simply "Preacher"), demeanor (I love the way he deals with trouble), hinted-at back story, and methods make for a very memorable Western icon. One example that appealed particularly to me was his choice of firearm: a Remington New Model Army cartridge conversion. There's even a scene where they show (accurately) Clint reloading the gun by changing out the cylinder (as he calmly walks towards his final adversary -- really cool).
The action scenes were good. The initial confrontation between the Preacher and the boss's usual thugs was good, as was the final showdown between the Preacher and the hired Marshal. There's a great shot where the Preacher's face is finally revealed to the Marshal, and he has these deep black eyes and this chilling expression. He really looks like the Angel of Death.
The music was ok-to-great. Most of the time, the music during the regular scenes is nothing special. I love the score that closes the movie, though. It's a really haunting and ominous piece that plays as the Preacher rides away through the snow, and I wish the composer had used it more.
The bad is everything else. I didn't care about any of the other characters (except for maybe Spider, but the resolution of his story is lame), and none of their stories were compelling. The villain wasn't memorable. The gun-shot sound effects were particularly bad. They used the same stock A-Team pistol shot sound for every single gun, even though we saw a slew of different pistols and a couple rifles being used. (Unfortunately, this is the case for most American action movies made before the mid-to-late 90s. Heat is the earliest example I can think of a movie that had really good, non-stock gunfire sounds.) The high water-mark set by Open Range only underscores the failure.
Not great, but has enough good scenes to warrant a rental.